Ever thought about watching a 100m race where you knew everyone was using substances to artificially enhance themselves, rather than finding out a couple of years later when a ban is issued? Well the Enhanced Games may be for you.
The idea pits competitive sport alongside the world of performance enhancing drugs in an Olympics-style format, claiming to be about pushing the human body further than non-doping athletes could.
But there’s no getting away from the topic being such a taboo. Drugs in sport? It’s not for everyone.
‘Like being gay 50 years ago’
And Enhanced Games president Aron D’Souza has no problem in rupturing the status quo.
A promotional video online – since replaced due to copyright requests – used terms such as “come out” and “my body, my choice” – synonymous with the LGBTQ+ community and abortion causes – as well as pointing to a website where readers can find a “Hall of Shame” for Olympic and anti-doping officials.
Asked whether his language was intentionally provocative, D’Souza tells City A.M.: “Absolutely. I have a sign up here in my office, ‘if you master language, you master the world’ and I am a very proud gay man. I’m an immigrant, I’m a person of colour.
“When talking to enhanced athletes, their journey is so analogous with the LGBT community.
“The way I analogise it is like being an enhanced athlete today is like being gay 50 years ago – it’s stigmatised, it’s illegal in some sense and it’s done in a dark alley.
“But you know, a lot of people are doing it and it’s a lot of fun. And what changed for the LGBT community was pride – there was a flag to rally around and if you look at our website it is intentional. What’s our first picture? A flag. Maybe this was our Stonewall moment.”
Enhanced Games Hall of Shame
One of the members of D’Souza and the Enhanced Games’ Hall of Shame is Craig Reedie, the former chief of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
He told City A.M. last week that the Enhanced Games “flies in the face of the world-agreed system”. D’Souza – a London-based Australian – disagrees.
“I think that’s a great quote,” he says. “I sort of had a chuckle. Sir Craig said that this isn’t a system that the athletes wanted. I am not sure if you actually talk to the athletes of the world, do [they say] they want to piss in some cups in front of the IOC?”
The Enhanced Games aims to get off the ground in December next year and has plans to use US college infrastructure.
Away from discussions of performance and doping is a manifesto on cost reduction.
It is no secret that the Olympics costs a fortune, and often comes in way over budget.
Money, money, money
The Enhanced Games may therefore rally support from its idea of using existing stadiums for its programme of athletics, aquatics, combat sports, strength and gymnastics.
And unlike the Olympic system which is based on amateurism, it promises to share its profits with the athletes.
“The underpayment of athletes is the core moral failing of the Olympic Movement; it is a vestige of the aristocratic sentiment behind the outdated unpaid ‘amateur’ requirement,” the organisation’s website states.
D’Souza adds: “Non-for-profit sports federations naturally lead to corruption because so much money is sloshing around.
“So what kind of [potential] stakeholders are we engaged with? Venture capital funds, media companies and sovereign wealth funds.
“I’ve had a world champion combat sport athlete who’s DMed [direct messaged] me on Twitter and said this is the greatest thing he’s ever heard of and cannot wait to be involved.”
It is difficult to know what to take at face value and what to take with a pinch of salt – or any other substance – when it comes to the Enhanced Games.
Enhanced guinea piga?
These ideas often come and go, and there’s no denying that sport – and athletics especially – has been repeatedly damaged by doping scandals and general suspicion.
But does the Enhanced Games open up medical companies to using athletes as guinea pigs, testing experimental enhancers in a competitive format?
“As long as they’re open and transparent with medical professionals about what they’re doing, absolutely,” D’Souza says.
“Let’s distinguish this from any kind of state-sponsored coercion in particular. When a state tells you what to do with your body, that’s a war crime. When you decide to tinker with your body, that’s a human right.
“We would take serious action against any country that was forcing any kind of medical procedure upon athletes.”
Wild, radical and provocative. The launch phase for the Enhanced Games has achieved those elements. But turning it into a reality with big name stars ready to “come out”, well that’s a completely new challenge in its own right.